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Reviewed by Indigo Tomlinson
Opening sentence
IN THE MYRIADIC YEAR OF OUR LORD—the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death!—Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.
When I pick it up, my first thought is that Gideon the Ninth sounds kind of cool -“lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space.” My Mum thinks it sounds like a weird mishmash of genres, and as I read I discover she’s totally right, but also totally wrong. Every element of this book’s world is so richly imagined it takes a 30-page glossary and character summary at the back for me to even understand the setting properly which, it can be argued, may be overkill.

And the mishmash of genres thing? It works. It really does. Muir defies any kind of box you want to put Gideon the Ninth in and creates a story that is wholly unique and all her own; it's almost like a horror novel in its clever employment of supernatural suspense (and gore), almost like a fantasy in its complex, inter-character relationships and the ascription of a mysterious quest, and almost like science fiction for the gothic, galactic space setting that Muir so cleverly employs.

Gideon has been trapped, an unwanted foundling, on the planet of the necromantic House of the Ninth for her whole life. When her eighty-sixth escape attempt is foiled once again by the loathsome Reverend Daughter and leader of the Ninth House, Harrowhark Nonagesimus (who, by the way, hates her guts), Gideon finds herself in a tricky situation. Harrow and her non-existent cavalier, along with all the necromancers and cavaliers of the other Houses, have been summoned by the Emperor to participate in a series of trials so that some, or all of them may ascend to Lyctorhood; becoming all-powerful, near-immortal servants of the Emperor himself. Harrow, desperate for this chance at power, offers Gideon an offer she can’t refuse; if she poses as Harrow’s cavalier, Harrow will grant her freedom.

So it is that the unlikely duo arrive at Canaan House; a gothic remnant of a long-forgotten age. And, as other necromancers begin to die off, and sickening manipulations are revealed, they realise that one of them cannot survive without the other.

This is not a perfect book. The dialogue can be obscure at times, and understanding the world Muir has crafted remains challenging throughout. It is as though she knows this solar system inside and out, and expects readers to feel the same, which, in some ways, is a good thing. Worldbuilding should be subtle and it should be gradual, but it shouldn’t take that same thirty page glossary and character summary at the back of the book for me to properly comprehend what is going on.

Perhaps most difficult is keeping track of more than nineteen different characters, all with strange names, (also nicknames and titles) and their own difficult-to-decipher agendas. I’m not sure if all my brain-power has just been expended on my recent exams and therefore I’m finding it difficult to keep track of things like Palamedes a.k.a Sextus a.k.a Warden, what he believes and what he wants, or if there’s an issue here that needs to be acknowledged.

There’s also the sense that something inherent is missing in Gideon and Harrowhark’s backstory, but you eventually realise Muir did this intentionally, which is clever, as it leads to the reader feeling mildly befuddled and on edge for the whole story.

And yet…there is something captivating about Gideon the Ninth. Muir seemingly effortlessly creates a sense of mystery, and layers clues throughout the novel, narrating it all in Gideon’s darkly funny, sardonic tone of voice.

Each character has been carefully thought out and crafted into detailed life on the page; each has their own agenda, their own motivations, which are, excruciatingly slowly, revealed throughout the book. Harrow and Gideon in particular are complex, and nuanced, both ugly and beautiful in their actions and relationship with the other. Gideon is one of the most bad-ass female characters I have encountered in a novel, and she’s so funny that it creates contrast and provides the perfect foil to the serious nature of many of the other characters.

The effort that Muir has put into taking the solar system of the Nine Houses and bringing it to life is unparalleled but it is the inter-character relationships, the great female representation, the pervasive sense that something is wrong with the trials and the strikingly powerful ending that really made this book for me.

“The idea….that your echo is louder than your voice.” - Tamsyn Muir, Gideon the Ninth.

- Indigo is 15 and lives in Whangārei.
ISBN: 978-1250313195
Format: Hardcover
Publication: 2019
Ages: 16+
Themes: Fantasy, Young Adult, LGBTQIA+, Science Fiction